After a harrowing 7 1/2 hour road trip yesterday (congestion leaving the city, then construction delays, then troopers escorting a wide load at 30 mph on the 70 mph bypass and finally a rollover accident that closed the road. Seriously. All of it), I needed to unwind. I set my alarm for 7 am to be at Shale Hollow when it opened at 8 am fully loaded with coffee.
There was one other person there when I arrived with a very polite, wet black Lab. There’s a little bit of fog burning off and the air is thick and soupy. It’s still tolerably in the 70’s. It will get up into the stfiling mid-90’s by this afternoon. I started my wander along the creek bottoms. The laminar shale, rock eons old, seems to fold like liquid over the occasional protruding boulders.
The creek bottom is covered entirely in chips of shale in every size and shape, many with their own intricate linear patterns. Its a popular place for kids to play. Later today I’m sure it will be busy with splashing, giggling children. I skipped across some stones to explore the other side of the creek, passed a nature play area and then headed uphill to the cliff overlook trail.
Birds are singing their morning song up here in the canopy. The sunlight is streaming through the trees as it works its way up into the sky. A tawny deer crosses my path ahead. He’s not moving too quickly, but his tail is raised, alert. He stopped behind some trees. I slowly, quietly stepped forward. We regarded each other for the briefest of moments before he ran off, bouncing through the forest, tail waving in alarm.
I’m surprised to hear voices behind me. At first, they were faint and I thought they were coming from the creek bottom. But now they are closer. A woman with two small children is slowly coming up the trail behind me. Nature has created her own version of the kid’s play area up here. With the chatter of little voices, this may be the last of the wildlife this morning. But no, a fuzzy black caterpillar is scurrying about the path, vulnerably exposed, occasionally stopping to investigate something more closely. In the dimly lit morning forest, a fast moving black caterpillar is a challenge to photograph.
At a fork in the trail, I take the spur, suspecting the family will turn and loop back on the shorter trail. Spiderwebs along the side of the trail are highlighted in the morning sunshine each with its own creator at the center.
The trail leaves the forest and loops through an open meadow. In the full sun, its hot. The family appears behind me at the forest edge but turn around when confronted with this heat. I decided to walk the prairie footpath to allow us some separation on our morning journeys.
While trying see enough of these little brown birds that keep flushing out of the grasses to make an identification, I caught a glimpse of another deer. Beautiful and healthy it bounded through the meadow, tail waving, to disappear into the woods. Walking along the dewy clover-covered trail, I get a little misting of cool water across my ankles with every step. Its a little refreshment in this hot, humid sun.
An inchworm is danging from an invisible thread twirling and curling like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat in the breeze.
A cicada starts its call, slow and low, rising in pace and pitch. Its an iconic sound of summer in the Midwest. Despite the dew, dragonflies and damselflies are flying about.
If they’ve dries themselves in the sun, I wonder if I will get to see a snake basking along my way. I paused to let the sparrows settle into my presence In the stillness, they go back to their regular activities – preening, singing and searching for insects near the ground. I’m finally able to make an identification – song sparrows and field sparrows.
While I waited for the sparrows, I noticed a viceroy butterfly sitting perfectly still on the edge of a leaf. It’s been a good year for the monarchs and there is a lot of milkweed in this meadow. I wonder if its a normal fluctuation or if its a result of all of the efforts to educate and preserve habitat. I double- checked with the binoculars, definitely the mimicker on this leaf.
At the end of the meadow loop, just before rejoining the forest spur that I came out on, I noticed three funnel webs covered in dew. They are in the short grass immediately trail-side. I suspect a spider is waiting below each funnel. I enjoy seeing the different techniques used in survival, even by the lowly spider.
I backtracked through the woods to the fork and turned. The path soon rejoined the ravine overlooking the creek. There are mushrooms all along this part of the trail. All kinds of mushrooms.
And more spider webs. I lingered here for a while before walking back down to the creek edge and marveling once again at the shale before I left.
I am rejuvenated and ready to start the day.